Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Couldn't Have Curbed My Enthusiasm for the Stare-down of the Century (Make That Centuries)

As re-reported yesterday by Mental Floss, two grandsons of John Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841-1845), are, amazingly, living. Tyler, who became president upon William Henry Harrison’s death one month into his term, was born in 1790. It seems impossible that a man born so far back in American history that, as a boy, he likely wore a tricorn hat and colonial breeches every day of the year rather than only on Halloween could have grandchildren who aren’t themselves long dead. Of course, neither of these grandchildren ever knew President Tyler, who died in 1862, but the fact that three generations of the Tyler family currently span 224 years is mind-boggling.

Tyler, a more randy president than even John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton, fathered 15 children by two wives. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, his fourth son by his second wife, was born in 1853, when Tyler was 63 years old. (Tyler later begat two more sons, finally zipping up at age 70.)

Lyon Gardiner Tyler, who eventually became President of the College of William and Mary, inherited his father’s aversion to birth control, siring three children with each of his two wives, the latter three conceived when he was in his seventies. Both Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. (born 1925), and Harrison Tyler (born 1928) are still with us, making them living links to an inconceivably remote past.

Mental Floss first broke this incredible story in January 2012—which is a damn shame because it would have fit wonderfully into a Season 2 subplot of Curb Your Enthusiasm, filmed in 2001.

In Episode 15, “The Thong,” Larry David, at the request of Rob Reiner, reluctantly agrees to be the prize in a lunch auction to benefit Groat’s syndrome (which—let’s be clear—has nothing to do with former Pittsburgh Pirate Dick Groat). Larry eventually sits down to lunch with a man named John Tyler (played by Tom McGowan), who paid $4,000 for the honor of sharing a meal with Larry. This John Tyler not only is no relation to the president, but is completely dismissive of sharing his name. Determined to provide John Tyler with an entertaining and affable experience, Larry, grasping for conversational ideas, even serenades his lunch guest with a Marilyn Monroe–esque Happy birthday, Mr. President John Tyler

Now, Tom McGowan played the increasingly annoyed Ordinary John Tyler admirably, and the scene conjures a lot of laughs. However, it might have worked even better had McGowan’s role instead been played by one of John Tyler’s two surviving grandsons (who, at the time of filming, were only in their mid-seventies). Of course, it would have been pointless to have Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., or Harrison Tyler play an unrelated man who happens to possess the name “John Tyler.” But had one of the grandsons played himself, upon Larry’s discovery of his lineage, there’s no way that Larry—a keen student of history both in the show and in real life—would ever have believed that the grandson of an antebellum president could still be alive—thus yielding the absolutely ultimate Larry David stare-down as he tries to determine whether the man sitting across from him is telling the truth about being the grandson of the long-deceased President Tyler.

A Larry David stare-down a century and a half in the making—that would have been pretty…pretty…pretty…pretty good.

(Images of Larry David and Tom McGowan copyright HBO.) 

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